|Saturday March 27,
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This week brought good news about homeownership in America. The Census Bureau reported that new home sales in February rose to an annual pace of 1.16 million homes, a 24 percent increase over the past year. This success follows one of the most impressive years in America's housing industry. More homes were sold in 2003 than ever before. Housing starts last year were at their highest level in a quarter century. Rising home values have helped take the wealth of American households to a new record level.
In our growing economy, more Americans can afford a new home. Incomes are rising. The unemployment rate is falling. Mortgage rates are low. And because of tax relief, Americans have more to save, spend and invest -- and that means millions of American families have moved into their first homes.
Our nation's 68 percent homeownership rate is the highest ever, and our government is taking steps to make owning a home a reality for more Americans, especially minorities and those with low incomes. In June 2002, I set the goal of adding 5.5 million new minority home owners in America by the end of this decade. Since then, more than 1.5 million minority families have moved into houses of their own. And for the first time, most minorities own their own home.
We are building on this progress. I have signed into law the American Dream Down Payment Act, which will help low-income Americans to afford the down payment and closing costs on their first home. I'm asking Congress to provide an annual $200 million for this program. That additional money would help an estimated 40,000 low-income families every year become first-time homeowners. I'm proposing that we make zero down payment loans available to first-time buyers whose mortgages are guaranteed by the Federal Housing Administration. And this will help about 150,000 families buy homes in the first year alone.
Another obstacle to homeownership is the often complicated process of buying a home and getting a loan. My budget for 2005 would more than double funding for housing counseling services from 2001 levels.
A house and a mortgage represent a big personal commitment, and we want to prepare more Americans to make that commitment with confidence. To make homeownership attainable for more of our citizens, I have asked Congress to create a tax credit to encourage the construction of affordable homes. Under my proposal, builders will have an incentive to provide an additional 200,000 affordable homes over five years for families with low incomes.
And finally, we are encouraging the real estate and mortgage finance industry to join in our efforts in closing the homeownership gap. More than two dozen major companies and organizations have committed to extending more loans to low-income families, financing the construction of more affordable homes, and providing financial counseling to potential buyers. These policies will make a difference in the lives of millions of Americans.
This week, I met with Lori Benavidez, a single mom living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Last November, with the help of a federal homeownership program, she moved into her first home. Here's what Lori says: "I never thought the day would happen when my girls and I would be sitting in our own home. It is a miracle."
Every time a family moves into a home of their own, it fulfills a dream and it shows faith in the future, and that faith is well-placed because America's economy is strong and it is getting stronger.
Thank you for listening.
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